Monday, June 4, 2012
BEHAALOSECHA - HUMILITY - THE KEY TO GREATNESS
BEHAALOSECHA - HUMILITY - THE KEY TO GREATNESS In the end of the Parsha, Hashem describes Moshe Rabbeinu as the most humble man upon the face of the Earth. According to the Torah’s definition of greatness, Moshe represents the ultimate level a person can reach; he attained the greatest closeness to Hashem humanly possible, learnt the most Torah and was the teacher of all of Klal Yisroel. It is clear that his outstanding humility is directly connected to his greatness. This begs the question; there are numerous good midos such as kindness and honesty so why is it the mida of humility in particular that is the one that enabled him to become so great? In order to answer this it is instructive to analyse the mida which is the opposite of humility - arrogance. The Gemara in Sota describes Hashem’s hatred for the arrogant person - Hashem says that there is no room for Himself and the arrogant person (baal geiva) to ‘reside together. What does this mean? The baal geiva believes that he does not need Hashem to succeed in life. He feels that his own talents are sufficient and therefore he does not need Hashem’s ‘help’. Accordingly, Hashem responds mida ceneged mida and complies with this attitude - He provides the baal geiva with no siata dishmaya in his endeavors. That is the meaning of the idea that Hashem won’t reside with him. Therefore, he is greatly limited to what he can achieve by his own talents - because he is a mere human being he is limited. He may be intelligent, but his intelligence will only take him to a certain point. After that he is helpless. The anav has the opposite attitude. He realises that he has talents but that they are G-d given. Accordingly, he acknowledges that anything he strives to do can only be accomplished with Heavenly help (siata dishmaya). This realisation is not limiting, in fact it is incredibly empowering. For once a person recognizes that Hashem provides him with whatever ability is necessary, it becomes obvious that his potential is unlimited because the source for his success is Himself unlimited! If a person is willing to exert the necessary hishtadlus in doing Ratson Hashem then he can achieve success that even transcends the regular laws of nature (derech hateva). This explains why Moshe Rabbeinu’s mida of humility enabled him to reach such incredible heights. He realised that anything he tried to do was only through the power given to him by Hashem. This recognition removed any limitations on what he could do, and as we see many times in the Torah he attained supernatural achievements. In Parshas Vayakhel The Ramban describes an example of how humility - the recognition that Hashem is the source of all our strengths - can enable ordinary people to achieve great things. The Torah, in discussing the building of the Mishkan, tells us that “every man whose heart inspired him came.” The Ramban explains that this refers to the people who came to do the skilled work such as sewing, weaving and building. But there is a difficulty with this explanation - the Jews in Mitzrayim had no opportunity to learn skilled activities such as these so how did these people suddenly possess the ability to do them?! He answers that “their hearts were raised in the ways of Hashem” to the degree that they found in their nature the ability to do things that they had never learnt how to do. They realised that Hashem is the source of all our ability and consequently they were able to achieve the impossible. Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz zt”l develops this theme even further. He quotes the passuk in Mishlei, “Go to the ant, you lazy one, see its ways and become wise.” The Medrash explains what we are supposed to learn from the ant: “This ant only lives six months and all it needs to eat [it’s whole life] is one and a half kernels of wheat, and it goes and gathers all the wheat and barley that it can find… and why does it do this? Because it says to itself, ‘perhaps Hashem will decree for me life and this food will be ready for me to eat’. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai said that he once saw an ant’s hole in which there was 300 Cor of grain, therefore Shlomo Hamelech said ‘go to the ant, lazy one’, you too should prepare for yourself mitzvos from Olam Hazeh for Olam Haba.” Rav Shmuelevitz notes that the ant gathers 300 Cor based on the distant possibility that he may live long enough to eat it - this, he writes, “would be a miracle without comparison, because in six months he eats one and a half kernels, if so to eat 300 Cor he would need to live hundreds of thousands of years! Such a miracle has never occurred in the history of the world… nevertheless the ant works hard to do this. In the same way, man is obligated to work and prepare himself in Olam Hazeh for Olam Haba, and if he does not do so - does not work according to the remotest possibility of a miracle, then he is considered lazy!” He then explains that this is the explanation of the Tana d’bey Eliyahu that everyone is obligated to ask himself when he will reach the level of the Avos. “All one’s behavior and actions must be directed at reaching the level of the actions of the Holy Avos. Even though the distance is extremely far, much farther than the 300 Cor for the ant, and b’derech hateva it is impossible to reach it, nevertheless man is obligated to strive to do whatever he can to attain it.” He continues that such ambitious goals can indeed be attained but only through siata dishmaya. Indeed he points out that our ability to ever conquer the yetser hara is only possible due to Hashem’s help, as stated in the Gemara that “if not for Hashem’s help we cannot defeat the yetser hara.” Thus we have seen that humility, the recognition that we can only achieve anything in life with Hashem’s help, is the key to greatness. Once we tap into this unlimited source then we can reach incredible heights. Of course, the level which Moshe Rabbeinu achieved seems very distant, however we could all find instances in our lives where it was clear that the siata dishmaya was the cause of our success. If we can access the feeling that we experience on those occasions then we can quite easily recognize that Hashem is the source of all our abilities. Thus we have seen how humility should be the catalyst to inspire us to strive to achieve great things. However, it is important to be aware that there is a negative side to humility. Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l addresses a common tendency of people to underestimate themselves by claiming that they are greatly limited in their talents and that they can never achieve greatness. He writes that this kind of humility is the atsas yetser hara. Indeed, according to what we have seen thus far, this attitude is exactly the opposite of genuine humility; Genuine humility empowers a person, whilst this false humility only serves to inhibit him. It seems that this attitude actually derives from a different negative trait - laziness, which is really a manifestation of the desire for comfort. It is not easy to achieve greatness; it requires great effort and the willingness to face setbacks and even failure. This is difficult, therefore it is very tempting for a person to ‘write himself off’ and thereby exempt himself from even trying - this is certainly the more 'comfortable' option. However, we must be very weary that Hashem has far higher expectations of us and that we will be judged according to that measure. Moreover, if we do overcome this initial reluctance to try then we can experience the great feeling of actually making an effort to do something that can help many people - this is a far deeper pleasure than that of comfort. How much can a person achieve when he plugs into Hashem’s unlimited power? When one visits the home of a Rabbi in Aish Hatorah it is very likely that he will see a photo of Rav Shach zt”l with a statement underneath it: About 30 years ago, he visited Aish HaTorah and spoke there. He was struck by the remarkable number of baalei teshuva that were standing in front of him. He suddenly decided to speak in the Beis Medrash - he discussed the concept that however powerful the forces for evil can be, the forces for Good must be greater. Based on this he made a remarkable statement: “if one man can kill six million Jews, then it must be that one man can save six million Jews.” This is the statement that accompanies the picture of Rav Shach - this is a lesson that we should never forget. Hashem is infinitely more powerful than the most powerful reshaim. If we only tap into His power then we can genuinely strive to reach Rav Shach’s vision.